Confederations’ character: Definitions of confederations, like those of states, are multifarious, and no useful purpose would be served by quoting them. Most authors agree that a confederation is a union or association of states formed to promote or achieve certain specific objects, especially the maintenance of their common external security.

Unlike those who unite to form a federal union or a unitary state, the individual states retain intact their own sovereignty and their own governmental autonomy in so far as the latter is not expressly surrendered and delegated to the confederate organs established by the act of union.

A confederation differs from a mere alliance in possession of some fixed central organ or organs. The member states’ wills may be expressed in the greater variety of the objects designed to achieve an element of intentional perpetuity.

It differs from a personal union in that the bond that unites the members is more than the possession of a common titular sovereign. It results not from the accidental operation of succession laws but the formal agreement or compact embodied in an international convention or “articles” of confederation. It is. Therefore, a purely contractual creation resting upon international agreement rather than constitutional law is more political than juridical.

Nor is it terminated in the same way that personal unions are, but usually comes to an end through secession and dissolution or the establishment in its place of a federal union or a unitary state. It differs from a unitary state in that its component members are not mere administrative circumscriptions but real states, in full possession, as stated above, of their sovereignty and independence.

Unlike a federal union, a confederation does not possess single sovereignty, but there is a plurality of sovereignties, as many in fact as states are composing it. Ordinarily, each member state remains an international person; it may enter into treaty relations with foreign states and even engage in war with them without involving their associates. If war breaks out between two or more of them, it is international war and not civil war.

Nevertheless, the union’s pact in a particular case may confer the lights of legation, war, and peace upon the Confederation’s organs. Therefore, what is said of the relations generally existing between a confederation and its members may not be true of every confederation. It all depends upon the terms of the pact in each particular case.

Finally, a Confederation differs from a real union in its purposes and its nature. It is formed mainly for defense, and it lacks in the common organs, which are characteristic of a real union.

Confederations have no citizens or subjects to whom their commands can be directly addressed or from whom obligations or duties may be required. Being composed of sovereign states, their governmental organizations rarely operate directly upon individuals but reach them only through the medium of the separate state organizations.

The will of the confederation is but the total of the wills of the component states. It is expressed not in statutes framed by a real legislative body but in ordinances or resolutions framed by a quasi diplomatic body, a diet, a conference, or a congress consisting of plenipotentiaries or delegates representing the government of the several states coma posing the confederation. These delegates usually vote by state and according to the instructions of the government which they represent.

Their resolutions have no binding effect upon individuals as such. Still, they are addressed, as already said, to the organs of the confederated states. They are usually inoperative until adopted by their-governments and given the force of law within their jurisdictions.

The congress or diet of a confederation has us ower to enforce its resolutions except by federal execution, that is, by using force against a recalcitrant member. Most of the confederations in the past have, in fact, had no executive or judicial machinery and have therefore been compelled to rely upon the willingness of the member states to enforce their commands.

It follows from the nature of a Confederation that its component members are free to withdraw at will and thus dissolve the confederation. The confederate authorities have no constitutional power to restrain a disaffected member and compel it to remain in the confederation against its will.

A Confederations is Not a State:-

Regarding the juridical nature of a confederation, the authorities differ. One group, including Bore Carre de Malberg, Fauchille, Jellinek, Laband, Von Mohl, and Oppenheim, denies that it is itself a state, or a moral person, as the French say.

It is, on the contrary, merely a vinculum Juris between sovereign states, a simple association, having no juridical personality of its own, and no rights or competence except such as exist in virtue of express delegation by the confederated states. Another group of writers, which includes four, DeLouter, and Schulze, while admitting that it is not a state, maintains that it possesses an international personality and does the component states.

The fact is that no known confederation ever possessed the character of a true state. Still, there is no reason why it cannot possess at least a limited international personality. Whether it does or not depends upon the terms of the particular pact upon which it rests.

Examples of Confederations:-

History abounds in examples of confederations, for the tendency of neighboring states to associate themselves together for defense purposes and further their common interests has proved to be almost as strong as the social impulse among individuals. Among the ancient Greeks, confederations were numerous, the more important being the Boeotian, Delian, Lycian, Achaean, and Italian leagues.

In some cases, the component members were federated together much more closely than in others. The constitution of the Achaean League, for instance, provided for a common executive magistracy, a legislative body, and even a rudimentary judiciary.

In fact, its organization was so highly developed that some writers considered it to have been essentially a federal union rather than a confederation. Leagues and confederations among the early Italian cities were not uncommon, though they never attained the perfection and degree of importance of Greece.

Several important federations were formed during the medieval period, among which may be mentioned the Rhenish Confederation (1254-1350), which eventually embraced some seventy members.

Then came the Hanseatic League (1367-1669), which was originally organized to promote and protect trade, but which gradually devel0ped into a great political power that waged war and negotiated treaties, and eventually came to exercise an important influence on the international affairs of Europe. It had a sort of central legislative organ and crude judicial machinery to adjudicate disputes among the members?

The Holy Roman Empire (1526-1806), the most extensive federation formed before the nineteenth century, eventually embraced several hundred states of varying types and importance-free cities, ecclesiastical territories, and hereditary monarchies.

It maintained a common Diet (Reichstag) and several imperial courts. Other examples were the Swiss confederations of 1291-1798 and 1803-1848, which grew out of the union of three small cantons, but which overcame all of them, and the United Netherlands, 1576-1746, composed of the Dutch provinces.

The two best-known modern examples of confederations were the United States of America from 1781 to 1789 and the German Confederation, 1815-1867. The former turned out to be little more than what the articles of union described it to be, namely, a firm league of friendship among the states composing it.


It was expressly declared in the articles of agreement that each member of the confederation retained its sovereignty, freedom, and independence and every power, jurisdiction, and right not expressly delegated to the confederation. Its avowed object was to provide common protection against the attack upon any or all of the states. The collective will of the confederation was ascertained and expressed through a congress of delegates constituted without any reference to the component states’ populations.

No common administrative or judicial organs were created, the enforcement of the congress’s resolutions being left to the individual states. The powers conferred upon the general congress were so meager and the means of enforcing its will so inadequate that it perished, to use the language of De Tocqueville, through the excessive weakness of its government,

The German Bund, 1815-1867:-

The German Confederation embraced at first thirty-eight states of varying rank and important kingdoms, grand duchies, principalities, and free cities. It was declared a perpetual league to preserve Germany’s external and internal security and the independence and inviolability of the confederate states.

The members’ collective will was expressed through a Diet of plenipotentiaries which at Frankfort under the presidency of Austria. They were appointed by the governments of the states, which they represented and voted according to instructions.

The Diet had the power to send and receive ambassadors, declare war and conclude peace in the name of the confederation, and, under certain conditions, intervene in the affairs of the individual states. However, each state retained the right of legation and could enter into foreign alliances, provided they were not directed against the security of the confederation or of any one of the component states. In case war was declared by the confederation, no state could conclude peace without the confederation’s consent.

No member of the confederation could make war against another member, and in case of differences between them, the disputes were to be submitted to the Diet’s decision. There was an imperial court that had limited jurisdiction. Still, there was no common administrative machinery, the enforcement of the Diet’s resolutions being left mainly to the individual states.

The Central American Federation, 1907-1918:-

A recent example of a confederation was formed in 1907 by the five Central American states of Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Salvador. It differed from all previous Confederations concerning the objects created to accomplish and in the instrumentalities through which they were to be achieved.

It was based upon seven international conventions concluded at Washington in November 1907. The most important of these provided for the establishment at Cartago of a Central American Court of Justice, an agreement to submit to this court for a period of ten years all disputes of whatever character arising between two or more of the member states, which could not be settled by, diplomacy, an agreement to establish an international Central American Bureau, and provision for annual conferences for a period of at least five years.

Unfortunately, the confederation came to an end in 1918 at the expiration of the ten-year period for which it was created, this in consequence of a decision of the court holding that Nicaragua had violated the rights of the other Central American states by a treaty which she had entered into with the United States in 1914. Nicaragua refused to abide by the decision, and the United States, silently at least, supported Nicaragua in her refusal.

Today, there remains no example of a confederation in the sense in which the term has been defined above. Experience has demonstrated the inherent Weakness of this type of union. It represents a transitory stage of political development. Those that have existed in the past have all disappeared through the consolidation of their member states either into federal unions or unitary states.